What Beets Are Good For
Few vegetables are as polarizing as beets. Some love their earthy sweetness while others think they taste a little like dirt. People also wonder whether they have too much sugar, or if they’ve been genetically modified.
But the truth is, there are a lot of good reasons to eat beets. And if you haven’t tried them since you were forced to eat the canned version as a child, it’s time to taste the real thing.
Nutrients You Should Know
Beets, like most vegetables, are packed with many familiar and healthy nutrients. They are a good source of folate, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber. But what really sets beets apart are the lesser-known—but highly beneficial—nutrients they contain. “Compounds in beets—such as nitrates, betalains, and betaine—have been studied for their positive effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, cardiovascular health, and cognition,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition and dietetics, Saint Louis University and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Research has found that betalains (which give beets their rich red color) have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Betaine is essential for many cell functions and also protects cells against oxidative stress, which can damage cells. “And the nitrates in beets help expand blood vessels,” says Lisa Sasson, R.D., clinical professor of nutrition at New York University. “Studies have shown that after eating foods that contain nitrates (such as beets), there is increased blood flow to the brain.”
The blood vessel-widening effect of nitrates may also help lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers gave athletes beetroot (in a supplement) or placebo before and during two hours of moderate-intensity cycling. Those who got the beetroot showed less muscle fatigue and reduced oxygen consumption.
“Our research found improved endurance and also better muscle contraction, which helps increase power and speed,” says Andrew M. Jones, Ph.D., professor of sport and health sciences at University of Exeter and one of the study authors. “The effect seems to come mainly from the nitrate, but other compounds—such as antioxidants and betaine—might make the nitrate more effective.”
Most of the studies looking at the benefits of beets use beet juice or powder because it’s more concentrated. “But the beneficial effects of eating whole beets are the same,” says Jones. “The amount we studied would be equivalent to eating about three or four beets.”